Saturday, September 26, 2015

Facts: Child Sex Abuse And The Abusers


Child sex abuse, which is a commonly misunderstood term, refers to any use of an adult or older child by a minor for sexual purposes. Note the word use of 'using' a minor. Some state that children can consent in certain circumstances, but by law the age of consent indicates that a child under that age cannot consent. Psychologists use trauma as a measure of whether or not abuse has occurred, and while their are cases where children are used for sexual purposes and are not traumatized, these cases are a very small exception to the rule. Examples of child sex abuse are child marriage, molestation, penetration, propositioning, taking sexual pictures or videos, prostitution, and sexting. Many psychologists have also stated that exposing to a child, for any reason, is child abuse and others have stated that having lewd sexual conversations with a child is child abuse.


Child sex abuse has a number of demonstrated psychological effects on its victims, including PTSD, depression, anxiety, dissociation (an unawareness of internal or external surroundings, and detachment from such) and also has physical effects in some cases such as bleeding, lacerations, organ damage, STD's, STI's, infections, and damage to areas of the brain that are essential to development.


On average, child sex abuse affects one in six boys and one in four girls by the time they reach the age of eighteen in the United States- a figure confounded by the fact that 90% of abuse cases are not reported to abuse (of the abuse that we know of). It is a commonly held belief that abused children grow up to become abusers, however, studies have indicated that this is true less than 40% of the time for adults that abuse children. It is far more common for a child who abuses younger children to have been abused than it is for an adult who abuses children. Many victims grow up to have lasting psychological issues and criminal convictions involving alcohol or drug abuse.

According to a meta-analysis of over 200 studies in 2011, 12.7% of the world's population is affected by child sex abuse: 7.6% among boys and 18% for girls. North America, Africa, and Australia had the highest percentage for girls abused (20%-21%), while Africa and South America had the highest percentage for boys abused at 19.3% and 13.8%, respectively.

Factors Affecting Disclosure

Numerous factors affect whether or not abuse is disclosed, either publicly or to authorities. In some cases, the family and victims decide not to disclose the abuse publicly or to authorities so that the child and family have space to heal and move on from the event. In others, the child is threatened or manipulated into secrecy, or forces themselves to forget the abuse. Societal pressure on boys from sex stereotyping and minimization affects reporting for boys, and sex stereotyping overall is also responsible for increased shame and humiliation in the victim. There are many, many factors that lead the victims themselves to decide it would be best not to disclose that they were abused, and many factors that lead families to keep it from going public. Suffice it to say that child sex abuse thrives on secrecy: Both on the victims to tell, and on offenders to keep the act quiet. While some false allegations also influence disclosure statistics and data, approximately 10% or less of abuse allegations are found to be false.


Alongside the sex stereotyping and secrecy that affects disclosure is a stigma against abuse victims. Some victims are mocked and ridiculed for having been the victim of abuse, and may be teased about the clothing they wear or imply that the abuse was the victim's fault. In some cases, the trust in the adult being accused is such that the victim is not immediately believed and may change their story based on the reaction to their disclosure.


Approximately 60% of abusers are family acquaintances such as neighbors, friends, babysitters, or teachers and another 30% of abusers are directly related to the victim. The remaining 10% of abusers are strangers. Estimates in the 1990's indicated that most abusers were abused themselves, but recent studies have thoroughly debunked this myth. Most researchers estimate a high of 40%, which still leaves the majority of abusers having never been abused. Some other myths have stated that abusers abuse because they are left-handed or have wisdom teeth (none of which has any causal effect on their behavior).


Following the Jacob Wetterling Act, Megan's Law, and the Adam Walsh Act, the United States set up a nationwide Sex Offender Registry.

Under the Jacob Wetterling Act, enacted after an 11-year-old was abducted, assumed to be by a sex offender in a halfway house in the same town. This act's intent was to inform law enforcement in a convenient database of where criminals convicted of sex crimes resided and were employed to further investigations into sex crimes.

Under Megan's Law, enacted after a 7-year-old was raped and killed by a man who had previously been convicted of two other sex crimes, certain classes of sex offenders mandate law enforcement to notify the community of where an offender lives. Megan's Law expanded sex offender registries by mandating this community notification and requiring all states to comply with registration requirements.

Under the Adam Walsh Act, named after a 7-year-old who was kidnapped from a shopping mall and killed, sex offender registration was given more uniform requirements and risk assessment guidelines for determining risk level and increased the classification for who is and is not on the registry.

Note that all of these laws that have formed the current sex offender registries are named after victims of crimes. Under these registries, any crime under the umbrella of a sex crime can make someone a sex offender and require registration, regardless of the crime's severity or the risk of the offender. Urinating in public makes someone a sex offender as easily as someone having sex with a minor, or child sex abuse, pornography, trafficking, or prostitution. In most states, a simple failure to properly register can increase an offender's assigned risk level and mandate community notification. In every state, law enforcement is required to check the compliance of an offender's registration once per year or more, depending on risk level.

Recidivism (Rearrest/Reoffense)

It is commonly believed that sex offenders frequently or typically reoffend. However, several studies have indicated that the recidivism rates for sex offenders is much lower than other criminal populations with the sole exception of murder. Some studies, such as the 2002 study by the Office of Justice Programs under the US Department of Justice which observed 9,691 male offenders released in 15 states across 3 years, puts those rates as low as 3.5% . This compares to an overall 68% rate of recidivism for other crimes.

Effectiveness of Registries

Many studies and research has studied the effects of registries on offending and found, contrary to the popularity of such registries, that sex offender registration does not decrease reoffending and in some cases has been shown to increase recidivism. For example, a University of Chicago Law School study of over 9,000 offenders, half of which released to states where they were required to register, and half where they did not, found that there was no noticeable difference in the propensity to reoffend. The same study found that blocks of the nation's capitol where sex offenders lived did not have different rates of crime. Another significant example was the University of Michigan Law School study done in 2008 comparing the effects of registration and community notification (police only and public notification, respectively), which found that public notification actually increased the number of sex offenses by 1.57% or more.

In short, sex offender registries were originally designed to give law enforcement an idea of where to look when a sex crime has been reported and is under investigation. However, given the low recidivism rate, the registry is a distraction for law enforcement in most cases, as they must check compliance of those registered at least once per year, per offender, or more depending on risk level.

My Conclusion

My conclusion, and granted I do not know nearly as much about the topic of registries, their requirements, sex offender laws, sentencing guidelines, and child sex abuse as I could, is that the focus on sex offenders distracts from real predators who groom the community, such as Jerry Sandusky or Jimmy Savile. Granted, these predators are in the minority of all sex abuse cases. However, it is important to note that most sexual abusers only abuse once- some research estimates state that 95% of abusers only abuse once. However, if every one of the other 5% have multiple victims and actively use their knowledge of their crime, grooming, and trust to abuse children, they are a significant problem, far more so than most registered sex offenders, who are assigned a low risk level. By focusing on these low-level offenders as if they will always be raping children, we are distracted from the real danger of true predators who actively pursue children.

Another conclusion I come to is that the current popular law, Erin's Law, which I have discussed before, will end up being more traumatizing for victims of child sex abuse if their abuser uses any form of manipulation, intimidation, or threats to silence their victims because of the increased shame and confusion. Therefore, educating children is not the solution. A child cannot tell when abuse is happening or what it is. They do not have the knowledge, words, or power to do anything about it. In terms of identifying when abuse is occurring, educating adults on the warning signs of abuse in children and the proper questions to ask and responses to suspected child abuse will make more of a difference in identifying and stopping abuse when it is occurring.

The final conclusion I come to is that help is not known or available to people who are attracted to minors- who make up the majority of child sexual abusers. Furthermore, the huge stigma around even having attraction to minors and the moral panic surrounding sex offenders makes it extremely unlikely that they will get help, even if someone was attracted to children and wanted help and knew that help was available. Furthermore, there are not nearly enough resources available to children on the topics of sex, sexuality, attractions, abuse, or the legal, moral, and psychological consequences of abuse. The general public is likewise not knowledgeable about these topics.

Therefore, we must make a sexual education standard for all children in the United States that teaches children, at an age appropriate level, about the aforementioned topics. We must provide them with resources they can use to get help if they need it- not just if they are being abused, or with their sexuality, but if they think their thoughts are dangerous or are afraid of what they are thinking. If any three of these conclusions are acted upon through the creation of new policies or legislation, it will be a huge step in the prevention of child sex abuse before it can occur.

No comments:

Post a Comment

Comments are moderated to ensure a safe environment to discuss the issues and difficult content in this blog.